Now that the NBA Draft is in the rearview and free agency is tapering down, it’s time to start looking ahead to Summer League. Unlike recent seasons, Boston has a bunch of talent that could realistically make a push for a spot at the end of the team’s roster.
However, it’s Aleksander Balcerowski who has piqued my interest. At 22 years old and 7’1’’, the European big man has some serious game that would only improve by being around NBA-level talent and coaching systems. This past season, Balcerowski played for Gran Canaria in the Liga ACB, where he averaged 9.2 points and 3.4 rebounds per game.
The Boston Globe’s Adam Himmeslbach has noted how Boston has been monitoring Balcerowski’s development and tried to add him to their Summer League roster last season. A quick look at the film and you can understand why.
On the season, Balcerowski wasn’t a prolific perimeter scorer, hitting 25% of his three-point attempts. Peel off a layer, though, and you have a big man with defined spots on the floor.
According to Instat’s tracking data, Balcerowski is an above-average shooter from both wing/slot areas of the court, with his weakness directly above the break.
Balcerowski can run pick-and-pop actions. He can flare off inverted screens. And he can position himself above the perimeter in five-out sequences that will allow Boston to maintain the spacing that Joe Mazzulla’s offensive system requires. That isn’t to say that hitting threes is all Balcerowski can do, though.
Last season, Balcerowski spent 30.9% of his offensive possession operating as a roll man. At 7’1’’, you would expect Balcerowski to either be a hulking center with limited movement or a tall, wiry big man who has questions surrounding his durability. In truth, Balcerowski is a happy medium.
At 22, he has already begun to fill out his frame and looks every bit the necessary athlete to compete at the next level. Yet, Balcerowski’s footwork and hip dexterity ensure that he’s mobile enough to be a genuine big man in the modern NBA.
There are moments when Balcerowski shows a soft touch around the rim, finishing off actions that require a slight acrobatic finish – such as up-and-unders or reverses off movement.
And there are other times when Balcerowski will simply hammer it home to ensure an easy two points around the rim.
A key point to note with the above clip is how fluid Balcerowski’s movements look. Changes of direction, backpedaling, and navigating through traffic, the 22-year-old has the movement skills to continually force defenses into tough decisions – especially when he’s surrounded by elite shooters and penetrators.
It’s that movement that has me believing Balcerowski could be a high-level screener for the Boston Celtics. With his size and build, defenders would struggle to fight through the contact, while the movement skills would make running ‘veer’ and ‘weave’ actions incredibly smooth.
One final note on Balcerowski’s perimeter fit with the Celtics – or any other NBA team – is that he has a legitimate motor and could be utilized as a rim runner or off-ball cutter.
In fact, 19.2% of Balcerowski’s offense came via off-ball cuts last season, be it as the trail man, a rim-runner, or a secondary cutter after the initial action/penetration has occurred. The big man has a good feel for when to make his cuts to provide a secondary scoring opportunity.
Casting our eyes toward the interior, Balcerowski’s post-up game is still a work in progress but has shown flashes of becoming another part of his offensive skill set. We’re in 2023, though. So, post-offense can be a tricky skill to refine, given the lack of reps in that area of the floor. Still, there are ways to make things work, and there are certainly ways to generate playmaking opportunities out of the post.
This brings us to Balcerowski’s defensive game, where he blends his movement and size to positively impact Gran Canaria but projects to have a very different role in Summer League and potentially in the NBA.
When playing for Gran Canaria, Balcerowski was primarily used as an up-to-touch defender in PnR actions. As you can see in the above clip, the big man is able to physically touch the screener before making his decision on whether to drop, show, or hedge the possession.
A significant part of Balcerowski being used in this type of defensive system is due to his ability to cover ground quickly and not get caught up when changing direction. For those of you that remember, it was a similar system that Mifondu Kabengele discussed during training camp.
“Based off the last two days, we’ve been in touch,” Mfiondu Kabengele told CLNS Media/CelticsBlog in a one-on-one interview with Bobby Manning. “So the bigs have been in drop, maybe some defensive drills we’ve switched just to practice it. As it pertains to going live and switching, only when Joe or when the coaching staff set up a lineup where it’s the switching lineup. That’s where they kind of do it. So far, we haven’t done a lot of switching for myself personally, but it’s definitely been practiced.”
At the NBA and Summer League level, guards will be quicker, wings will be more explosive, and the pace of the game will be faster with additional spacing on the floor. Balcerowski will likely spend the majority of his time operating as a drop big, using his size, frame, and directional ability to protect the rim while also being tasked with closing out to shooters who opt to pull up from the mid-range.
Due to the limited sample size on offer in Summer League, we may see Balcerowski play some perimeter-based PnR coverage in what may be a hybrid role, which could allow us to see the best he has to offer on that side of the ball.
Finally, despite his size, Balcerowski will need to improve his defensive positioning and boxing out, as his rebounding numbers leave little to be desired. This past season, the big man averaged 3.6 boards per game, which is simply not enough given his 7’1’’ frame. Hopefully, by switching to a drop role on defense, Balcerowski will be in a better position to help control the defensive glass and make better use of his size and frame.
Overall, Balcerowski could show enough to convince Boston to extend an offer for the season, bolstering their big-man rotation and potentially replacing Blake Griffin. However, as is usually the case, Balcerowski will likely be back in Europe next season, waiting for his next chance to show NBA coaches what he’s capable of.
For Celtics fans, though, we will get a first-hand look today in Vegas.